Friday, August 30, 2013

Borrowing from others

I thought about trying to wait this heat wave out, but then I looked at the long-term forecast and had to come up with a better plan.

Running after the sun had set, or after it was well on its way to setting, worked out well last summer. Also a good idea: getting by with some help from my friends.

First of all, I thought back to July, when Emily completed a marathon during that hot stretch we had before RAGBRAI. It made me feel appropriately humbled and empowered. If she could do it for 26 miles, I can do it for three.

Of course I expect the pace to be slower and yet more challenging. Regina and I, with two other friends, went on a night run at Gray's Lake recently, and she decided no walking until mile two.

The next day, when I was running during the late evening hours (read: there was still sun), I struck the same bargain with myself, because mile two came in the middle of two small but long inclines. Worked like a charm.

And I paid attention to a mistake that Cory, who is preparing for the Hy-Vee Triathlon, made during his post-work run on city trails — no water bottle. I generally don't like carrying water bottles, but during that two-mile walk break, I decided that I can tolerate it during heat waves.

I didn't feel like I was pushing too hard during that run (though it definitely didn't feel easy), and yet here were the numbers: 91 degrees with a feels-like reading of 97 degrees; 3.5 miles in 32:19 for a 9:15 pace; splits of 9:36, 8:50 and 9:04 for the full miles; and only one walk break. Downhill portions help, but I bet water breaks do, too.

So despite my insistence that the Boone County 5K was SO HARD because it was SO HOT YOU GUYS, I've still managed to enjoy a few of the heat wave runs. What a surprise, and what a nice change from previous summers where I sulked inside in the air conditioning about "not being able to run."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Boone County History 5K Run/Walk: Veni, vidi, vici

When I registered for the Boone County 5K History Run/Walk, I did it solely with the intention of helping a good cause. Nothing more.

I wasn't aiming for a PR or a place — not in late August, when I'd only been running again for a few weeks — and I wasn't even going to dress up, let alone compete for the costume prizes.

Yet look what I came home with:

I'll be honest: Not enough people were cool enough to join this event. The fields for best costume and second-fastest woman were not extensive.

I'll keep being honest: I don't care how much that might water down my victories; I've spent enough of my life being costume- and sport-challenged where anything beyond a participation trophy is going to be displayed proudly and boasted about.

Here's the winning costume, with the event's unofficial Des Moines marketing coordinator:
Marco was able to correctly identify my costume on the first try. That in and of itself was almost enough of a victory for me.
Julius Caesar was quite the hit with volunteers, the barbecue's caterer, photographers and even a few accidental spectators — "Is it hot running in that toga?" "Don't talk to her, she's running hard!" The entire evening was like being a celebrity (or being on RAGBRAI again).

Oh, and about the run: Yeah, it was hot, and it would've been without the toga. I started out too fast, of course, and made it all of 0.36 miles before safety pins started giving out. Oops.

When I wasn't clutching the bottom half of my toga, I was adjusting my sash or pulling up my tank top straps. Basically every part of my costume began falling apart except for the part I was most convinced would — the wreath, made of a sweatband, safety pins and shipping tape.

All of this tucking and bunching and grabbing, plus the overambitious first half-mile, meant I was certainly able to admire the historical site signs. As we learned on RAGBRAI, I get a kick out of small-town tourism; here, I passed Mamie Eisenhower's birthplace and saw where Boone's only female funeral-home director ran her business.

I declared to the race director that I was looking forward to defending my two titles next year, but I think I'd be perfectly OK letting some other woman come in second — it's the costume contest I hope to win again, this time against more competition.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The very best thing about RAGBRAI

I must be getting sentimental in my old age, because there was no question in my mind that the best thing about RAGBRAI was my team.

A few of the people I went with were already "old" friends, who'd done running races and training rides with me; a few were acquaintances; and a few were complete strangers at the start.

But, to my great surprise, there wasn't a single person I secretly wanted to push into the Mississippi River by the end of the trip.

Sure, with a large group, we could alternate with whom we spent more time, but when you're with people from 6:30 a.m. until midnight, that's a lot of opportunity to grow irritated.

As a college bestie's wise mother says, traveling with people is the true test of whether you like them. I guess I like these folks.

Which is good, because everyone who isn't moving to the Caribbean for med school is already in for 2014, and the one who is moving to the Caribbean has already invited us to come out for a visit.

Some snapshots of our hijinks:

Wednesday began with one team member doing yoga to loosen up for the ride, so when we struck up a conversation with a yoga instructor in Monroe, a few of us were glad of the opportunity to expand our stretching knowledge. Chris (center) and Cory were good sports and let me do better downward dog than they did. 
The first time Regina and I rode around Lake Red Rock, we were tired and hungry, but the second day, we were more appreciative of the scenery.
A RAGBRAI tradition is to write "virgin" on the calves of first-time riders. I managed to avoid mentions of this until Friday, when we found ourselves at a beer garden with my second-favorite beer (Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy). Kyle (left) and I are asking Cory whether he's spelling virgin right. He is not. I was nearly a "virin."
This crowd had no bus to catch in Fort Madison, just the car of Mike (at right). So we took our sweet time Saturday; we're here in Keosauqua at the First Street Grille, which had four drinks on special. Joe and Mike suggested that we all get one of each, and Michelle and I decided to join them. Hence the duck faces.
Mike (from left), Michelle and Joe were all completely new to me when RAGBRAI began, but by the end, it was like we were old friends. Perhaps we'll re-create this photo in about six months, but with the Caribbean Sea behind us and swim gear in our hands — it's Michelle who's moving abroad.
My favorite moment, which didn't make it on camera (I tried; it was too dark), was partying in Fairfield's square. As described by one team member to another who called it a night early: "You missed the best night ever. There was a lot of yoga going on. We didn't do anything or meet any new people. We just acted like f*cking idiots."

There was also a lot of local wine going on, some dancing and much falling over while attempting plow pose. Surprisingly, though, no injuries.

Is it July 2014 yet?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Second-best thing about RAGBRAI

I fully expected the food and the other bikers to be highlights of my RAGBRAI experience. What I didn't expect was how much fun I'd have touring small towns in Iowa.

I'd heard of Pella and knew it was a popular place to visit, and I'd passed through Hedrick and Fort Madison en route to my college town, but the majority of these places, I would never have seen and loved.

OK, sure, these towns really rolled out the red carpet for RAGBRAI. I doubt they'd be this appealing to me, if I weren't visiting as part of a totally hedonistic organized road trip.

But surely the enthusiasm of their welcomes/farewells — Des Moines residents literally applauded as we rolled past — deserves some praise in return!

I think Pella and Keosauqua were my favorite towns, though Oskaloosa and Fairfield had some darn good parties. 
At the Vermeer Mill. When we arrived in Pella, my thirst became for touristy sights, not beer or Bloody Marys.
Bike sculptures were definitely a thing. Pella's offering, seen here, was much less creepy than Oskaloosa's — there were stuffed figures sitting on bikes, leering at us as we rolled into town. 
Is Bussey famous for anything? No idea. It's a beautiful mural, though, and I'll remember it fondly for the pizza (and free beer) I consumed there as an appetizer for ice cream a few miles later.
The Mississippi River, as seen from behind a bar in Bonaparte, 20 miles from the end of the route. Twenty miles back, we'd agreed that Keosauqua would be the only stop until Fort Madison. So naturally we pulled in at Bonaparte and ordered two "River Waters" each. (That's iced tea and vodka.) And ... a shot. 
West Point was our second post-Keosauqua stop. I think we originally stopped so we could go to the bathroom. We did accomplish that, but we also climbed up Mount RAGBRAI and visited a pizza parlor ... and ordered a pitcher of beer ... and topped it off with ice cream.
I loved where Fort Madison dumped us out at the end — downstream from the prison, right by the fort, within sight of the neat suspension bridge and underneath another stellar example of bike art.
The last thought on tourism and RAGBRAI: I regained an appreciation for the downtown square while passing through and staying in these towns.

Kirksville, Mo., where I went to college, had a decent farmers market and craft festival in its downtown square, and so when we scarfed dinner in the shadow of Oskaloosa's courthouse and did wine-inspired yoga in the grass of Fairfield's square, it brought back some fond memories without the bittersweet feeling that those days are gone.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Third-best thing about RAGBRAI

The third-most amusing part of RAGBRAI was the scenery. Not the natural landscape, though that was nicer than non-Midwesterners likely would expect, but rather the humans.

If only I'd written this post a few weeks ago, I likely could have filled it with the innuendo-laden team names I saw, but I can say this with certainty: "Beaver" was a very popular word on jerseys.

And if I had better balance and reflexes, I could've snapped some photos of the tricked-out helmets, my favorite being the team that glued tiny outhouses to their helmets.

There were stuffed animals decorating all parts of bikes and bikers; there were colorful wigs; there were Viking helmets ... so much to see beyond spandex! (Like the cross-dressing crowd Friday just past Hedrick.)

Here are some sights I did capture for posterity:

As a cat owner, I approve of and envy this setup. As soon as my cat goes through two tubs of litter like this, the Shrimp will definitely be sporting similar panniers.
This weird cart benefited a charity — can't remember which, if I ever even knew — and it was powered by a hand crank. First the driver was whizzing around the Pella town square by himself; then he picked up a passenger; and then he rose to his team's challenge and added a dumbbell. A great show to accompany our lunch. 
"Tuck a buck," says the brief-clad gentleman's back. My teammates told me to tuck the buck instead of taking the photograph, but I declined.
A member of this team sat next to me at the First Street Grille in Keosauqua, and when I saw him stamping other people, I naturally wanted in on the action.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fourth-best thing about RAGBRAI

I recently realized it's been almost a month since RAGBRAI ... making my failure to blog about the event all the more shameful. All those posts about preparation, and I couldn't be bothered to share a few safe-for-work details?

Finally I sorted my memories into a few easy-to-digest chunks — it's Restaurant Week; food is on my brain 24/7 right now — and decided against trying to pass the delay off as being timed to coincide with the one-month anniversary.

So here's the first installment of my four favorite "themes" of RAGBRAI: food.

Yes, RAGBRAI has a well-deserved reputation for being full of delicious food. You shouldn't read any disappointment into my putting it at the bottom of my list of favorite things — it's just that there was so much nonedible fun that food got bumped down.

We began Wednesday at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, where I had my second breakfast of a Dutch letter ... on a stick, of course.
Coors Light was not a culinary highlight by any means, but this photo is symbolic of the mass quantities of beer I drank. Actually, before this bar stop, the group had split a bottle of local wine ... but I was too busy being thrilled about drinking local wine midday in the sunshine to take a photo. 
These pork chops were out of this world. When one friend offered to split a pork chop as a snack only a few hours after lunch, I jumped right on that. 
"Dunked corn" in Oskaloosa — like cornbread on steroids. YUM. Definitely a once-a-year treat.
My second breakfast on Saturday came at an all-you-can-eat pancake shack in Birmingham. The best part of this was watching one woman manning the griddle that held at least two dozen pancakes. She also would fling the pancake onto your plate from across the shed, if you asked. (I did not.) 
We lingered in Keosauqua on Saturday, to the tune of a couple of hours. Since the First Street Grille landed on the state's top 10 burger list, we decided to sample. At left is the breakfast burger; at right is the Reuben.
A few highlights that weren't pictured:

* Massive amounts of barbecue. I ate more of that than I did pastries.

* The glass of lemonade I had after 10ish miles of hills in the early-afternoon sun. It was the single-most refreshing beverage I had during the entire trip.

* The stop in Bussey, where I split a wood-fire-oven pizza for a midafternoon snack (yep), followed a few miles later by the most massive amount of homemade ice cream I'd ever had (thanks, Beekman's!). My two favorite foods within half an hour? Best vacation ever.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Upcoming race: Boone County Historical Society 5K History Run/Walk

There are a few types of runs at which I do not excel: ones in warm weather and ones in which participants are encouraged to dress up.

To be clear, I'm not opposed to warm weather in general — I just hate running in it — and I wholeheartedly embrace the idea of dressing up ... but I've just never been known for my costume skills. (See every Halloween, ever.)

So naturally I just signed up for the Boone County Historical Society 5K History Run/Walk. That's Aug. 24 (forecast to be 83 right now, but following a half-week of upper 80s), and as the name suggests, costumes are encouraged.

I fail at creativity under pressure, so I think I'll just admire those who put forethought into the event. Hopefully a really strange historical figure will smoke me.

But seriously, though, if you're a runner and near Des Moines/Boone, please consider signing up, or at least joining the afterparty. I went to a nerd college, so I'm excited to be benefiting an educational institution with my registration, and more importantly, a friend who's also dating a good friend is organizing this event.

Help my friends out, and I guess also help out the museum patrons, too — watch Theodore Roosevelt charge past me, even while wearing a suit in Iowa in late August, and indulge in some delicious local pork and local beer.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The second-most-fun kind of math

Normally I'm more of a word person than a numbers person, but once I started biking and (later) running, the stats bug started to bite me.

Mostly, it's the feeling of progress and accomplishment: look how many miles I ran/rode. Shortly before RAGBRAI, though I knew I was prepared, I was curious about just exactly how prepared I was.

When it came out to 933 miles done specifically for RAGBRAI training, I was shocked, then impressed, then more curious to see how much riding I'd done.

See ... from purchasing my road bike in spring 2011 through the end of 2012, I'd only done 667 miles on it.

In two years, 667 miles; in 3.5 months, 993. How much more could I emphasize how little I'd ridden The Shrimp before this year?

Fort Madison welcomes us to the end of RAGBRAI.
Well, during my half marathon training, I'd actually even ridden about 105 miles. And during my four days of RAGBRAI, I went 241 miles.

That means I've already biked 1,279 miles this year. (None of those came after July 27, in case you were wondering.) Which in turn means I've nearly tripled the mileage on my bike in 2013.

I was impressed. I am impressed. (I don't expect more serious bikers to be impressed.) This is more fun with math than anything not related to baking!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Riding the emotional roller coaster again

I found myself having a Lindsay Bluth Funke moment a few days ago, during a run.

"Have I lost it?" I asked myself during the first of five miserable intervals.

"Did I ever even have it?" I thought as nausea rose after the third.

I'll still agree with the thought that the only run you regret is the one you don't go on, but man, I did not award myself any gold stars after that particular effort.

Well, OK, despite how certain friends feel about participation trophies, I did pat myself — gently — on the back for realizing it wasn't my day and adapting my effort/expectations to conditions. (Hot and humid.)

Some of this floated around my head as I prepared for and embarked on my first long run of training — five miles, the longest I've run since April 28's half marathon.

But as it turns out, all of this RAGBRAI preparation had erased my memories of the emotional cycle most of my runs follow.

Today, the first few steps felt awesome. I loved running. I was thrilled to be running. Did I have to stop at five miles?

After the first mile, the sweat and fatigue began to build up. Running was kind of tough, but why? I'd had a good night's sleep, proper nutrition and none of the trigger foods/drinks.

Midway through, I found my rhythm. Running was awesome again. I passed a few groups of social runners. Thanks for the brief snippet of "Runaround" from your iPod, ladies, but some of us are flying at the target 9:30 pace.

And then came the hills, sometimes metaphorical, other times (like today) literal. Negotiations about when to walk ensued. The mind won today; next time, the body likely will. Hopefully the mind wins more often.

Finally, during the last half mile, the hundredths of a mile took their sweet time registering, but I knew they'd tick up even more slowly if I slowed down. Plus, that average pace — which had bloated to 9:44 in the previous stage — was shrinking.

Biking (well, in flat Des Moines at least) didn't feature so many mood swings. All of that happiness and gourmand behavior must've softened me up. Hence the day of doubt.

But hey, the deeper the slide, the higher the rise, and I haven't found much in athletics yet that can beat the runner's high.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Back home, back to running

The silence from this blog might've indicated that I disappeared on RAGBRAI.

I did not, but I did lose a great deal of ambition upon returning to civilized life. The intention is to put up a few posts about it; we'll see how that goes.

However, I have managed to accomplish two running goals, one of them even during this post-RAGBRAI lazyfest.

The Sunday before RAGBRAI was the last day of a lower price tier for the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon.

It seemed wrong/dangerous to sign up for a running event before I'd even completed the bike one that took months of training ... but to save about $10 or $15, I did it anyway.

Judge my frugality if you want, but my running shoes are bursting at the bunion seam, so that earlier-bird discount (a still-cheaper price expired in April) is nothing to sneeze at.

That was goal No. 1. Goal No. 2 was to go on a run this morning, and it did require some self-judgment ("you're not even sore from RAGBRAI; get off the couch, you bum") before I got going.

To my great, pleasant surprise — OK, so I did plan it to be flat and downhill — the run wasn't bad.

Before I'd finished the first mile, I was definitely feeling the rust and the head cold, prompting the standard early-part-of-training-season doubts about why I'd want to do this for 12.1 more miles.

Then I hit the gentle downhill slope and shade, though, and decided that I wouldn't need to do the run-walk combo anyway.

If I hadn't received a startling text at mile 2.5, I would've done all three — mostly in sun, humidity and heat — without stopping. Which is good, because Hal's training plan is designed to be feasible for those who can run 30 minutes nonstop.

Training officially kicks off next week. Here's hoping it goes as well as last half's training, but with a better conclusion.